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Education/Training

Niagara University Develops First Responder Disability Awareness Training

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With an increasing number of individuals with disabilities in the U.S., there's a growing and immediate need to train first responders to provide aid to individuals with serious disabilities in emergency situations.

Dave Whalen, project director at Niagara University in Western New York, founded First Responders Disability Awareness Training (FRDAT), a curriculum to train law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMS), 911 operators and others to respond to those with disabilities in the most skilled, compassionate and expedient way. More than 175 individuals (representing 175 departments) in firefighter/EMS programs and 171 participants (representing 91 departments) in law enforcement have successfully completed the program. FRDAT has already been emulated in Arkansas, with several other states inquiring.

FRDAT, offered on both the Niagara University campus or on location, is a two-day "train-the-trainer" seminar, enabling participants to bring the program to their departments and agencies. The training is designed to sensitize and educate on all aspects of disabilities, customized for each discipline specific to the challenges they may encounter. 

Specific topic areas include emotional disturbance/mental health awareness and responsiveness, developmental disabilities to include autism, sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, and traumatic brain injury. Responders are taught to define the various terms used to describe disabilities and to be aware of local, state and federal laws pertaining to those with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Further, they learn etiquette, interaction skills, "person-first" language and overcoming communication barriers. 

As a result of Whalen's collaborative efforts with Niagara University, the university received a New York State (NYS) Developmental Disabilities Planning Council grant to develop the training. The grant was first awarded in 2010 for a three-year period, but Whalen's efforts and the program's early success secured an extension as well as NYS recognition award. Niagara University FRDAT also received an $85,000 grant from the Tower Foundation dedicated to children and young adults, allowing the program to continue to operate in Erie and Niagara Counties, among others. NU FRDAT has a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Department of Justice Community Relations Services with the intent to develop national awareness training for law enforcement.

Niagara University FRDAT has established relationships with the following; NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control, NYS Department of Health Emergency Medical Services, NYS 911 Coordinators Association, Law Enforcement Training Directors Association of NYS, NYS Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Fire Association of NY, to name a few.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five people in the U.S. is living with some type of physical disability. When implemented nationwide, Whalen believes FRDAT will not only help these many individuals in the face of trauma, but should improve the relationship and trust factor between first responders and individuals with disabilities.

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